Rob McGovern | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rob McGovern


Rob McGovern​ founded PreciseTarget, which helps retailers create personalized product offers for their customers. Previously, he started two sites for job-seekers, CareerBuilder and JobFox.

The Mistake:

Handing out a learner’s permit rather than hiring somebody who has demonstrated the necessary skills.

When I was building CareerBuilder it was the apex of the dot-com bubble. It was go big or go home. What ends up happening is you get both desperate and sloppy when you are trying to double the size of your staff every six months.

If you get behind the hiring curve, you can find yourself willing to settle for a good athlete as opposed to a good skill player. I think the core problem when you do that, when you hire managers, is they, too don’t know who to hire. And you create this branch, if you think of your staff as a tree branch, that isn’t as healthy as all the other branches because you have an athlete as opposed to an expert hiring people who are also athletes instead of experts.

My philosophy now is, it’s urgent to hire the right person, as opposed to it’s urgent to hire a person.

Rather than hire fast, fire fast.

The Lesson:

Hire people smarter than you. I think of my job, as the head of a startup, as more analogous to a symphony conductor. I don’t think that symphony conductors know how to play the violin, the cello or the tambourine. I think symphony conductors know what it’s supposed to sound like.

And that is really an important thing I’ve learned. I can’t do certain areas of data science and certain areas of coding and certain areas of accounting. So I need to hire these brilliant people who are much smarter than me in that area.

Rather than hire fast, fire fast. The hiring process is a very challenging process because the parties have an incentive to not be truthful. So the companies want to say how glorious the position is and the candidates want to embellish their attributes and their qualifications. It’s not until the first month that the person’s in the job do you really know what you have.

Most managers aren’t very good at coming to the conclusion: “I’ve got the wrong person in this job.” I encourage them to get on with it. If you’ve got a great person, invest. If you’ve got a bad person, get on with it and help that person get to a place where they can succeed outside the company. This is part of life in a startup. You can’t carry people that are 50 percent fit in your organization.

Follow Rob McGovern on Twitter at @robertjmcgovern.

Photo courtesy of Rob McGovern.

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